Bloco Vomit streamed swiftly pavementwards from the wide-open mouth of Edinburgh's underground music scene in 1995, leaving passers-by pebble-dashed by splashback and wishing the band had listened to their mothers' advice. "Never mix your drinks," they said, "or your musics. You'll feel the worse for it, you mark my words." Not that the band ever listened, of course, but it might've been better for sensitive souls all round if they'd never dreamt up the vicious cocktail of samba and punk that they now call their own.
The band were formed when Carlos o Chacal (pseudonym alert!) met Hanley Crouch (ditto!) at the Edinburgh Samba School and during a post-rehearsal drink in the Kings Arms, Tollcross discovered they'd both got the same vision: to mix punk and samba. Several monthsof late night experimental sessions followed before Lady Lovelace (etc etc) was recruited and the rest of the band, by virtue of also frequenting the Kings Arms, came together later.
"Never mind the bossa nova," the debut album, took a rhythmic machette to a bunch of punk and new wave classics, chopping tracks like "Jilted John," "Roadrunner" and "Oh bondage, up yours!" into minced beat and three chords and cheekily re-covering "Police and thieves" with a satisfyingly apt samba-reggae lope. Quite apart from the way that the syncopated latin rhythms slotted so perfectly into the choppy, fractured pop songs, the most surprising thing about the album, to these Westernised ears, was the incredible range of sounds that percussion instruments can make.
New album, "Play this ya bastard," broadens out the source material to encompass "Sweet transvestite" (the band cross-dress for live shows), "Have love will travel", "Not fade away," a "Wild thing"/"Louie Louie" segue and a couple of originals. Pick of the bunch, though, are the two punk covers: an unmitigated trashing of "California uber alles" and another version (there's one on the first record too) of Crass' "Do they owe us a living?" The two albums have gained the band some attention in Brazil and an honorary position in the indigenous Mangue (pronounced "mun-gay") Beat movement which grew out of a manifesto authored by Chico Science and a couple of friends that promoted experimentation, musical and cultural cross-pollenisation and technology in a bid to get Recife, a town in northeast Brazil, some kind of musical nightlife. It worked, and spread, and 10 years on Mangue Beat is now a catch-all term for traditional Latino rhythms fused with Western rock.
On the eve of the release of "Play this ya bastard," Calos o Chacal (repinque, cowbell and vocals), Zen O'Phobia, Mr. E. Beet (both percussion and backing vocals),and Cherry Parsnip (caixa and vocals) join us to spill the (dancing) beans.
Are you a bunch of old punks turned samba, or a bunch of old samba demons turned punk?
O'Phobia: I didn't know samba before playing it, nor punk before rattling
my shaker. We are no punks nor sambistas I presume. Punk-sambistas? well,
that description is getting very close.
Why do you think the marriage of the two musics seems to work so well?
E. Beet: The drums can provide a similar kind of primal energy to that
which comes from bass guitar and kit drums in the classic punk/rock line
up. Punk has it roots in rock which comes from the blues which comes from
african music which is the same roots as Brazilian rhythms. In an age
of drum machines and sequencers a groove that swings is a breath of fresh
Is "Samba Punk" a (logical) extension of what The Clash were doing with reggae?
E. Beet: It's all been done before? Not like this it hasn't!
Do you get lots of old punks gobbing at you on stage?
Carlos o Chacal: That habit thankfully died a long time back. Reading stories of the early punk bands is stomach turning...washing and wringing out phlegm-drenched T shirts each night...I think that was the Heartbreakers first tour. The Lurkers' drummer got hepatitis from being spat on.
Were the old punks amongst you idealogues, or just into the music?
o Chacal: Definitely an idealogue---I was an anarchist before I was into
punk, or about the same time. Punk shook up the music business, of course
not for long, and punk labels, concerts and attitudes are strongly influenced
by the DIY approach, mutual aid, decentralisation, distrust of large corporate
dinosaurs and other essentially anarchist ideas.
Did punk achieve whatever you thought/think its aims were?
o Chacal: The revolution hasn't happened, but the world is a better place
for punk. There is still a punk movement after 20 years! It became a fashion---and
interestingly punk chic has strongly influenced mainstream fashion. Straight
people are still a bit disturbed by punk, and that is probably good.
Do you see anything with punk's spirit around now?
Carlos o Chacal: I'm a bit out of touch with contemporary music outside Latin and other world music, but there's plenty. I am involved with putting on benefit gigs for the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh and the spirit shown by the bands and people involved is definitely punk.
Were you excited by the crossover success of Richie Martin?
Carlos o Chacal: The success of Buenavista Social Club and Ibrahim Ferrer was what really excited me, though any Latin influences are to be welcomed - you can DANCE to Latin music. I bought their album in Holland and it was the first chart album I've bought for 20 years! They play 'son', which is the Cuban percussion based precursor of salsa (salsa got keyboards when the Cuban musicians started playing bebop clubs in New York), it is close in spirit and African percussion influences to samba. I haven't seen the film yet, but apparently it's amazing.
The rhythmic aspects of your music often seem pretty complex. How many people do you need to recreate them live?
o Chacal: Too many, speaking from the manager's point of view. The minimum
is about five or six percussionists, plus guitar, trumpet and vocals.
It's got up to 12 on occasion - we had five bass drummers.
Is it easy to play live with the combination of acoustic drums and noisy guitars?
E. Beet: Surprisingly yes, although bass guitar does not seem to work
well as it becomes hard to distiguish it from the surdo and it tends to
obscure the surdo arrangement.
Can you explain what the difference between some of the rhythms you use is? Does the type of rhythm depend on the speed, pattern and instruments used, for example? How rigid are the patterns, and how authentic are the ones that you use?
E. Beat: Speed: No, although certain rhythmic styles work better at different
tempos. Pattern: Sometimes. Most Brazilian rhythms have distinctive swing
and emphasis in the parts that make it up. Some patterns have a clave,
or key, that underlies the rhythm but just to confuse matters this is
quite often not played, especially in authentic brazilian samba (least
as I understand it). Instruments: It can help but is generally not essential
How rigid are the patterns? It depends on the piece but where a traditional
rhythmic style has been used as the basis for the percussion we tend to
try to keep it sounding like that style, which imposes a certain amount
of rigidity. That is because each style has distinctive features that
must be present if it is to be recognizable as such. Mind you sometime
we deliberately bend the rules and even play parts from one style of parts
from another and othertime we just make it up as we go along. Authentic:
Varying from nearly to not at all but never completely.
How did you choose the tracks on the first album?
O'Phobia: Those were the ones we could play
That album was self-released, what kind of reactions did you get to it?
O'Phobia: See the reviews on the web-site and start at the bottom to get
a kind of chronological order. (www.tardis.ed.ac.uk/~ian/bv/cdreviews.html)
Did you anticipate doing another album, or was it a "let's record the songs we're playing live" kind of thing?
O'Phobia: Well, those were the other ones we learned to play when the
first one was produced.
Why did you re-do "Do they owe us a living?" on the new album? Was that a different rhythm you used on each or just different speeds?
o Chacal: Crass themselves did a very slow version of this song as well
as the thrash version, so it just seemed natural, and the fast batucada
rhythm we used on the first album isn't appropriate for slow songs. Samba-reggae,
almost reggae in this song, is perfect.
Why did you branch out from punk so much on the new album?
O'Phobia: I don't understand you. We are still punk-sambista's and haven't
changed our attitude, we are still messing around with songs and traditions.
You see that is our contribution: making samba-punk out of rock-ballads;
most of the time it is the other way round, sadly enough, smooth singers
soothing away the roughness of vital energies ...
And now you're signed to a Brazilian label. Tell us a little about them, and how it happened.
Carlos o Chacal: Amazing, Pedro Serra, a Brazilian journalist, picked up our CD from a shop in London while on holiday. He wrote about us and played us at gigs he DJs in Rio de Janeiro. Soon everyone was going wild over our version of 'Should I Stay or Should I Go'. Then we got in touch with Trama who heard the album and wanted to sign us.
Tell us a bit about Mangue Beat.
Carlos o Chacal: Manguebeat grew out of the town of Recife in the North East of Brazil, as a movement, partly social and cultural, but based musically around the fusion of rap, hip hop, rock and traditional Brazilian rhythms from that part of Brazil. Chico Science and the band Nacao Zumbi really kicked it off. Their albums are amazing! Sadly Chico Science was killed in a car crash in 1997, but the movement is flourishing. The really important thing is that through listening to Manguebeat, many Brazilians became interested in their own music for the first time. Pedro Serra, a Brazilian journalist who has done more than anyone else to tell the Brazilians about us, wrote a fascinating article on Manguebeat in the Fall 1999 issue of Raygun.
Presumably, your Brazilian label see you as part of that scene but you didn't start out with that intention?
o Chacal: No, we didn't think of ourselves as part of this movement, but
as we had got interested in Brazilian rhythms and with our background
in punk and other 'European/U.S.' music, it is not surprising. We just
came at it from another direction. It is really interesting : when Brazilians
listen to our music, they hear it as Manguebeat.
How did they find you?
o Chacal: Well, a good friend of ours (and honorary member of the band),
Ze Allen, a musician from Recife, knows Carlos Miranda from Trama (Carlos
is very well known in Brazil and produced Raimundos and Mundo Livre).
I told Ze we were looking for distribution there, sent an email to Carlos
and got a reply back saying 'I've heard the album, it's great! Here's
the deal...'. Of course we have spent six months sorting out the contract
and other issues since then.
Finally, where does the cross-dressing fit in to all this?
Zen O'Phobia: Well, we are---as you might have understood---very, very serious about this. We went to the former manager of the Spice Thrills, Sandy MacShane, and obtained---after some good drinking sessions---his advice to look abroad for an image. Thus, in 1997 and under cover of the Edinburgh Samba School most of us went to Olinda and played samba with skirts on---according to the Brazilians, laughing 'Saia, Saia' when they saw our kilts. This made us think of dressing like Brazilians during carnival (where it is common to cross-dress); but I have to admit we are not succeeding very well...
...and you'd agree if you'd got copies of the photos. There's no lack of success on the musical front though, with "Play this ya bastard" being released this month. Contact the band at PO Box 23109, Edinburgh, EH6 4ZN or email@example.com and look them up on the web: pobox.com/~bloco_vomit
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